Copenhagen was recently nominated “Best City in the World” by Wallpaper Magazine in its Designer Awards, but where do locals go when they want to escape the hip and trendy city and relax? Gilleleje on the coast further north is one such place.
Gilleleje is one of the major towns along the north Zealand coast, but that in no way means big. You can approach it by train from Hillerød or Elsinore (Helsingør in Danish), and the latter option takes you along a stretch of scenic beach views on one side. Famous for its fishing harbour (Denmark’s fifth largest), supplying several Copenhagen restaurants, it goes without saying that fish is an important feature on local menus too. The word “leje” in its name shows that it is somewhere you would land boats whereas “Gille” means cavity and is the same word you can find in some names of caves in the north of England.
To the west of town is Gilbjerg Head, the northernmost tip of Zealand and, together with Swedish Kullen, the northern boundary of the narrow Øresund Strait, separating Denmark and Sweden. Here, you can walk along steep, grassy slopes looking down on stretches of pebbly beach and sea below you, or book yourself into the rather romantic looking old hotel. One who loved this area was the Danish 19th century philosopher Søren Kirkegaard who claimed that it was “where he saw the World emerge”. This is also where, in 1835, he wrote the following famous phrase:
“What I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know, except insofar as knowledge must precede every act. What matters is to find a purpose, to see what it really is that God wills that I shall do; the crucial thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die.”
As the town starts to take over, houses line the waterfront, which gets sandier as you walk towards the town centre. The inner harbour is awash with colours from the many small fishing boats and their flags, and this is where you find several popular restaurants around the lively quayside. Beyond it, you can make out the bigger vessels in the outer harbour.
History and Houses
In the old part of town, along Østergade, you will find the little 16th century church, built when fishermen had just started to settle here more permanently and make Gilleleje a town. The church loft is a harrowing place as this is where 75 Jews were hiding for a few days in 1943 during the German occupation. They waited to be shipped across to Sweden which they could see just across the water from the loft windows. Sadly, someone told Gestapo of their whereabouts and they were all captured apart from a boy who managed to hide behind a gravestone.
Strolling around the old parts of Gilleleje is a feast for your senses, as you wander around small lanes full of traditional Danish cottages, side by side, and if you visit in summer their gardens are in full bloom. Here and there a bakery or art gallery make you stop for a while and smell the roses.